When the geese flew over my house early Friday morning I was a bit suspicious. They were in formation as if it were October – about fifteen of them honking away. But it’s only August I thought to myself. It’s just a fluke. It’s the middle of summer. Well, Derek and I froze our butts off from 4 pm until dark today.
Derek Mitchell is an old-time friend of mine. Derek and I met in about 1988 when he joined the fly shop team at the Jack Dennis Outdoor Shop where I worked. We fished hard together that summer and have done so many more since. We’ve traveled the world, smoked cigars and shared a six pack from time to time. And now, despite him having a family and living in California, we still manage to fish together at least once a year if not more.
Derek works for Mountain Hardwear. Yesterday afternoon he finished up working a trade show in Salt Lake City. The minute the show was over, he drove his rental to Victor to meet me for three days of fishing. He got to my house at about midnight. Rather than charge out the door at the crack of dawn today we awoke casually and I ran a few fishing ideas by him over coffee. We settled on some of my favorites, Quake Lake, Hebgen Lake and on Monday, the Henrys Fork.
You’d think we were getting old or something. We didn’t leave Victor Idaho for our two hour drive until 10 am. By the time we stretched our legs and drank a celebratory beer on the platform at the Last Chance parking lot on the Henrys Fork, visited with and got our Montana licenses from Kelly Galloup and then launched my boat at Quake Lake, it was 3 pm. Finally I fired up my 3.3 Mercury and putted us up the lake to my favorite spot. There was a light chop on the water and I was sure the fish would be rising. Well, they were rising. But as we pulled into the dead trees, a main feature of Quake Lake, the first of a weekend of thunderstorms hit and we had to beach the boat and duck heavy rain, hail and wind in the trees.
The storm lasted a couple of hours. The lake roared with whitecaps and high winds changed direction at least a 100 times. Safe drift boating with the 3.3 would have been risky and fishing would have been hopeless during the storm. Thanks to some good cigars and icy cold Budweiser’s the time went unnoticed as we remained ashore and caught up on the happenings in our lives. Once the weather settled we pushed the boat back out to catch the evening hatch.
Things didn’t start out so hot. The temperature dropped at least twenty degrees. There were no bugs and not a fish to be seen. While Derek twitched big dries at the base of the eerie looking 50 year old dead Quake Lake trees protruding from the deep, I prowled the area with nymphs using my 6-weight Ross with my intermediate sinking Rio Aqulalux line. Hand over hand I slowly retrieved my Ben Byng Damsel and an English Buzzer three feet below the surface. Neither of us touched a fish.
The temperature continued to plummet so much that I set my rod down and pulled my emergency Tupperware from under the boat seat to get out a sweater. As I was digging around I heard a strange noise. It was as if something was getting pulled from the boat. Unfortunately it was. My rod, reel and line were leaving the boat! When fishing Quake Lake I fish amidst the middle of the dead trees. Sometimes I tie up to a tree but tonight we were slowly drifting and bumping off the trees. Sadly, my second fly that was dangling hooked a tree as we drifted past and my outfit got yanked from the boat. I spun around just in time to see the outfit plunge.
Let’s go back two years. I was in Egypt chasing Nile perch and we got caught in a bad storm in the middle of Lake Nasser. As we sped for shore, my 10-weight rig got bounced out of the boat by a rogue wave. I instinctively dove out of the boat for it because the tip was still in view, slowly sinking between the huge waves. But because of the speed in which we were traveling and my inability to see a damn thing once overboard amongst the waves and wind, the rod was gone. I got tossed around in the waves so badly I nearly drowned during the time it took the boat to navigate back to find me in the rough seas. Worst of all, I had my camera around my neck when I dove so that was lost as well. There’s even another time in Panama when I dove for my 14-weight, but that’s a long story so we won’t get into it. Let’s just say, I don’t dive for rods these days.
So when I spun around on Quake Lake and saw my rod sinking, I had second thoughts about leaping aimlessly into the creepy dark water. Even though I literally had one foot on the edge of my boat gunnels and my weight leaned forward to make the dive, I didn’t do it. The rod sank too fast. And thank God I didn’t because I had my new Canon camera around my neck, my phone and wallet in my pockets and I was already cold enough. I also had on lots of clothes and a full rain suit. Swimming would have been difficult to say the least.
That rod was my 6-weight Ross FC. Although you may not suspect it by the price tag on this rod, it’s one of the best 6-weights I’ve ever owned. I have taken that rod around the world with me this year and taken over 25 different fish species on it since fishing Brazil last March. This was a horrendous loss. Not only that, attached to it was my Ross Airius Reel. This is my lake reel and I have five extra spools for the reel, each with a Rio line of a special sink rate. This was a disaster.
Shock hits you hard when you have such a loss. It wasn’t so much the financial loss but the sentimental loss. This outfit was an old friend. It went on every outing with me and let me tell you, that’s a lot lately. As I pulled out my 4-weight and tied on a parachute Adams, I was in a daze. I kept replaying my last glimpse of the sinking rod. Should I of dove or should I of not? Man it was brutal.
About that time I heard a slurp. It was nearly dark so seeing wasn’t easy. But indeed it was a feeding trout followed by another and another and in minutes the lifeless lake came alive. There were brown trout rising everywhere! Before I could clip the tag end of my Clinch Knot, Derek was hooked into a leaping 13” brown. From then until 10 pm in the pitch dark, Derek and I landed over twenty browns and one rainbow on dry flies. It was unreal!
There’s nothing like a difficult fishing day that starts tough but ends big. That’s lake fishing for you. Many times you get to a lake and nothing’s happening. You blind fish with every fly in your box but to no avail. Most anglers pack it up and run to the nearest river. But my advice is that if you plan to lake fish, dedicate yourself. Spend the whole day on the lake you chose. Because every trout in the lake must eat at some point and if you are there it can be incredible. Derek and I gritted out the pain of no fish and a lost rod, reel and line, but the fishing turned on and we were rewarded big time.
It’s now unbelievably cold. It’s easily in the thirties. We had big plans of burgers at the Grizzly Bar tonight but it’s too late. Plus we are exhausted and tomorrow morning it’s up before sunrise and off to Hebgen to see if the Callibaetis will hatch. A couple pieces of this wet fried chicken in the bottom of the cooler will surely cure our appetite. On that note, were sleeping right here at the Quake Lake boat launch.